By: Amina Susi Ali
Our hero, Junior, has many habits, as do we all. He is consistently late, starts every conversation with the word, “listen,” and refers to everyone as “son” (with the exception of his mother, with whom he resides.) Our subject is thirty-two years of age, a Virgo, stands five feet and seven inches tall, and weighs 145 pounds. He sports a sharp goatee and short razor cut. His hair and eyes are the color of Café Bustelo, no milk. He favors Nikes, Adidas, and comfortable sportswear in general, with blue and red as his preferred colors. He is a New York Technical Institute graduate, but at the moment is working as a delivery person for an electronics store downtown.
Another habit of our hero: after a long and trying day of schlepping and sweating, he sometimes seeks relief from the likes of Bacardi, Don Q, Dos Equis, Corona or Smirnoff, the liquid mermaids that soothe his troubled brow, at Tacos Milenio, the local bar on the avenue (which serves very few tacos). You get the picture. Stress relief.
Junior’s mother, Magdalena Reina de los Angeles Diaz Cruz, was born in Aguadilla, a town on the west coast of Puerto Rico, in 1949. At the age of two she migrated to New York with her family and is a graduate of Washington Irving High School. Currently she receives a pension and her social security check after a thirty year career at Bellevue Hospital working as a nurse’s aide. She has diabetes, asthma, bunions, heel spurs, high blood pressure and a bad hip. In spite of it all, she crochets baby blankets, little girl clothes, Barbie dresses, toaster covers and toilet paper cozies which she sells around the neighborhood. She also makes and sells pasteles, from November through Three Kings Day.
Mama Magda dotes over her tiny part-Pomeranian adoptee from the ASPCA, Princess, who lives up to her name. Junior is also well cared for. Practically every day there are pots of food waiting either on the stove or in the refrigerator when he gets home. Pots of rice and beans, or pasta, and cooked meat: pork chops, pernil, ribs, chicken, and sometimes fried fish. When Junior awakes the café con leche with just the right amount of sugar and milk is waiting in a pot on the stove, alongside a pot of oatmeal or Cream of Rice. All he has to do is make and butter the toast, but sometimes he’s not in the mood for bread.
This is how it has always been. This is how Magda has always prepared meals for her son and late husband, Tito, may he rest in peace.
Monday afternoon at the butcher shop Magda was catching up after the weekend with her friends Lily and Rosa, regulars there. She bought her usual ground beef, chicken and ribs, enough to keep herself and her family fed for a few days.
“Ay, my son Junior, I’m gonna kill that kid!,” she said to Tom the butcher.
“What did he do?”
“Friday night I made Spanish rice and I left the pot on the stove overnight to soak so it would be easier to clean the next day. You know, I put a little water and a little dishwashing soap in it….You know what Junior does? He comes home drunk in the middle of the night and heats it up and eats it! The next day, he comes up to me, he says, “Ma, you can’t cook no more! You cook lousy! I was throwing up all night from that rice you made!” That crazy kid! I don’t know what to do with him anymore!”
“Ha ha, that’ll teach him to come home drunk!”
That evening Magda prepared a meal of baked ribs with BBQ sauce, white rice and avocado salad. She dined alone (no Junior again) and put the leftovers in the refrigerator. She also prepared a special dinner for Princess. She mixed the ground beef with a can of Alpo dog food and a beaten egg, formed patties and made hamburgers for Princess. Princess loved them. She ate them right up. Three patties were left over so she wrapped them in wax paper and put them in the refrigerator to cook the following day.
I don’t need to tell you what Junior did when he came home later that night a little tipsy.
The next morning Junior did not want any café, nor oatmeal, nor toast.
“Ma,” he croaked, “I think there was something wrong with that ground beef. It made me sick like a dog!”
“No, no, silly. There was nothing wrong with that meat. It didn’t make my Princess sick…”
Amina Susi Ali is a New York-born Puerto Rican who has written poetry and short fiction since the age of 12. She has been published in the original Nuyorican Poetry anthology (William Morrow, 1975), Cuentos: Stories by Latinas (Kitchen Table Press), Essence Magazine and most recently, Phatitude magazine and AM New York. She is currently studying fiction writing at New York University.